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Coldplay ‘Kaleidoscope’ – Review

18 Jul

Despite essentially being a companion release to last year’s middling ‘A Head Full of Dreams’, ‘Kaleidoscope’, Coldplay’s new five track e.p, serves a more wide reaching purpose. In some ways it works as a suitable primer for Coldplay’s nearly two decades deep discography.

‘All I Can Think About You’ is a glorious throwback to the ‘Clocks’ era incarnation of the band, where sky scraping melodies are bedded in with moody piano riffs with minimal fuss. The less successful ‘Aliens’ reunites the band with Brian Eno for a re-run of their ‘Viva La Vida’ experimentation. Gratifyingly, the song’s political theme raises the stakes on the shallow sentiment of the band’s last album. Big Sean duet ‘Miricles’ reminds us that modern day Coldplay love to recruit celebrity names (see also, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Chainsmokers) for cheesy collaborations. This one isn’t too bad though. The, well, hypnotic, ‘Hypnotised’ emerges and disappears from memory without making any kind of mark. And then we’re left with the awful ‘Something Just Like This’, here presented as an elongated live version, presumably because everyone who has heard the original either already has it downloaded or never wants to hear it again. The live version does the hit some favours in that it diminishes the headache inducing EDM thud thud production and uses the audience as an enthusiastic endorsement of the song – but they surely can’t persuade me it’s anything other than banality of the most mind numbing variety.

‘Kaleidoscope’ is about the least surprising release of the year in a couple of senses. It’s a Coldplay e.p and it sounds exactly like a Coldplay e.p. Nothing more, nothing less. If you like Coldplay you will like ‘Kaleidoscope’. If you don’t like Coldplay then you won’t like Kaleidoscope. Secondly, it is after all only an e.p and is as slight and insubstantial as that title would suggest. Even Coldplay’s most passionate fans won’t be claiming it to be anything revelatory. By my reckoning, of the five songs only one is a real winner (‘All I can Think About Is You’) and only one is dreadful (‘Something Just Like This’). The rest are nice, inoffensive, unexceptional post-pop Coldplay songs that will float by nicely in the background next time you have some housework to do.

5/10

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Calvin Harris ‘Funk Wav Bounces Vol 1’ – Review

17 Jul

Calvin Harris’ recent run of fine form has been surprising to say the least. Earlier this year he put out the EDM regurgitation ‘My Way’, then a couple of months later, seemingly out of nowhere, came ‘Slide’, the Frank Ocean collaboration that bested anything contained on Ocean’s own ‘Blonde’. It was logical to look past Harris and credit Ocean with this song’s success – after all, this type of graceful melody and effortless vocals were already familiar to fans of ‘Chanel Orange’. Of course, appreciation was shown to Harris for coaxing Ocean out of his indulgent and pretentious phase and into making his purest pop expression in ages, but the plaudits went to Frank.

A month later came the Pharrel/Ariana Grande/Young Thug collaboration ‘Heatwave’ and it was suddenly harder to look past Calvin Harris’s own contribution. Of course Ariana sounded as beautiful as ever, Young Thug turned in his most memorable verses to date and Pharell’s Stevie Wonder impression was on point, but more than that, it sounded like a personal achievement in substance over style for Calvin Harris. Third single, and Future collaboration, ‘Rollin’, with its remarkably lucid (for Future at least) verses and catchy chorus, confirmed that the first singles weren’t flukes and Harris was indeed on to a winning formula. This is borne out by the album as a whole: ten largely glorious, lightly touched pop nuggets that sparkle in the summer sun. He described ‘Funk Wav Bounces’ as ‘feel INCREDIBLE’ music and it’s hard go argue.

The drops have been, err dropped, and the arrangements sound sleeker and more nuanced. Bluntly speaking, Harris seems less interested in dragging you to the dance floor and more interested in seducing the listener. The beats are less obnoxious and more slinky, the synths are less siren-like and more shimmery. True to the title, there’s a G-Funk lilt to the record that makes it the natural soundtrack for a summer barbecue. It’s not dissimilar to what Daft Punk achieved on ‘Random Access Memories’, if that album has ten ‘Get Lucky’s’ and less of the proggy detours. Every song is expertly designed to put a smile on your face.

Calvin Harris has given us glimpses of his true capability before: his often overlooked debut ‘Acceptable In the 80s’ was a fairly insubstantial but enjoyable blend of electro and indie influences, not dissimilar to what LCD soundsystem or Hot Chip were doing at the time. Second album ‘Ready For the Weekend’ was more forgettable; a 90’s house revival record short on nuance and big on beats. After that he transformed in to a full on chart monster, where shades and subtleties became increasingly difficult to find. Undeniable bangers like ‘We Found Love’ and ‘Dance Wiv Me’ lost impact when lined up alongside each other on the albums or a DJ’s playlist. For every ‘We Found Love’ there was a ‘What You Came For’, for every ‘Dance Wive Me’, a ‘Holiday’. As other producers became unfathomably infatuated with noxious elements he was largely responsible for popularising – the drop, for example – he started being blamed for the inescapable rise of EDM.

Maybe it’s this pressure to perform to a standard he set for others that has made him reassess his music’s purpose, but more likely it’s the realisation that big beat EDM ran its course a while ago. His last album ‘Motion’ was fittingly called because Harris really was going through the motions – and with diminishing returns (two songs failed to reach the top 10 – unheard of for him). Call him what you like but he’s always been an astute trend spotter and on ‘Funk Wav Bounces’ he wisely sidesteps the one he started in the first place.

Perhaps he feels that as he’s taken responsibility for his music’s failures in the past, he now deserves credit for its success. Therefore he rightfully makes a big deal about his exact role on ‘Funk Wav Bounce’. In the extensive liner notes he credits each and every instrument he personally played on the record – and there’s a lot of them. He’s also uploaded videos to YouTube, meticulously demonstrating how each song was constructed. One of the negative side effects of this promotion strategy is that it reveals the conceit and naked ambition behind each song. In its weaker moments you suspect that Harris has merely swapped one successful but tired formula for a more credible, but equally popular, one.  ‘Feels’, with a phoned in Pharrel verse and Katy Perry chorus, is too on the nose for its own good; Harris’ calculating intent suddenly feeling uncomfortably transparent. Similarly the Mark Ronson-aping ‘Cash Out’, with none too subtle appearances from Schoolboy Q and PARTYNEXTDOOR, and the vacuous ‘Skirt On Me’ with Nicki Minaj, try far too hard to attain Song of the Summer status.

But of course this is the bed Calvin Harris has made for himself – he’s ultimately only as good as the people he collaborates with. This must be grating. In pitchfork’s review of ‘Slide’ they barely mentioned Harris and dished all the praise out to Frank Ocean, yet if the song had failed you can guarantee where the blame would have lay. To most listeners, Calvin Harris is an irrelevance; a faceless musical manipulator who you wouldn’t be able to identify in a police lineup. But considering the amount of work that he personally put into ‘Funk Wav Bounces Vol 1’, you have to conclude that in future he will want more than that. He won’t want to rely on collaborators who will ultimately either steal the glory or ruin his instrumentals. He co-wrote, and was the sole player and producer, of every song here and has managed to make dozens of diverse talents sound like natural bedfellows whilst maintaining a singular aesthetic style. If you think that’s easy then listen to DJ Khaled’s sprawling and tasteless new album to see how badly it can go wrong. Make no mistakes, Calvin Harris deserves credit for ‘Funk Wav Bounces Vol 1’ and if he doesn’t get it then on Vol.2 he may decide on giving himself a more prominent role.

7.5/10

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Fleet Foxes ‘Crack Up’ – Review

5 Jul

A few months back, Robin Pecknold wrote an impassioned defence of indie rock in response to an Instagram post by David Longstreth. He made many persuasive arguments but perhaps the most interesting was about the perceived lack of ambition within contemporary indie. ‘I feel like 2009, Bitte Orca / Merriweather / Veckatimest, was the last time there was a fertile strain of “indie rock” that also felt progressive w/o devolving into Yes-ish largesse.’ He went on to say how (unnecessarily) overwhelmed these albums made him feel at the time, convincing him to retreat further towards a more achievable folk sound for album number two ‘Helplessness Blues’. Considering how articulate and developed his points in this discussion were, it seems likely that this subject has been on Pecknold’s mind a lot of late. Fittingly, Fleet Foxes new album ‘Crack Up’ recalls those epic indie rock albums of 2009 in terms of scope, melodic ambition and luxurious detail, and in 2017 it stands out like a beautifully sore thumb.

Admittedly it should be good considering how long it was in gestation. In exactly the length of time Robin Pecknfold has been writing the album and finding himself (writing took place during a three year college course bookended by touring and travelling) The Beatles went from ‘Please Please Me’ to ‘Abbey Road’. So of course expectations are high. Thankfully though, the time off appears to have intensified rather than diluted Pecknold’s enthusiasm for making music with his fellow foxes. Perhaps spurred on by the cold, ironic detachment of his one time band mate Father John Misty, he’s turned in an album straight from the heart. An album built around thoughtful sentiments and warm harmonies without a hint of sarcasm or scorn in sight.

It was touch and go there for a while, by all accounts. Tension between Pecknold and fellow founding member Skye Skjelset boiled over during the touring of ‘Helplessness Blues’. But it seems like time and space have been great healers – this is the first album they’ve co-produced together. They address their relationship on stunning lead single ‘Third of May’, a song rich in both symbolism and emotive honesty. ‘If I lead you through the fury will you call to me?’ Pecknold asks over a naturally moving sea of instruments. The song is sometimes quiet and sometimes loud, sometimes busy and sometimes delicate. In some sense it feels longer than the eight minutes it runs for, containing as it does a multitude of emotions, moods and musical elements.

When Fleet Foxes get it right, as they do on ‘Third of May’ they sound unstoppable. ‘I Should See Memphis’, ‘Crack Up’, ‘Naiads’, ‘Kept Woman’ – these are by turns some of the most delicate, moving, patient, complex, ingeniously crafted songs released this year. They unfurl slowly and require concentration and persistence but as with most things that do, it pays off handsomely. Often I find a particular melody lingering in my mind for hours.

Just occasionally though, the band’s complex arrangements feel like overkill. Last week, Pecknold spent thirty painful minutes on the Song Exploder podcast breaking down every component of ‘Mearcstapa’ – from the samples, to the densely layered arrangements, to the complex harmonies and the cryptic lyrics. Ultimately though this is is an example of where all the moving parts – as impressive as they are in theory – don’t add up to much. The song is simply boring. As blunt as this may sound, considering the care and craft that went in to it, that’s the truth. No matter how impressive the various musical and lyrical elements are, the song simply doesn’t emote or connect as it should. It’s like looking at a watch; it may have impressive moving parts when viewed close up, but from a distance all that really matters is how accurately it tells the time. Just occasionally you get the impression Pecknold is being too clever for his own good.

This is particularly true of the lyrics. Peckonfold has annotated his songs on Genius.com, elaborating, for example, on the structure of ‘I Should See Memphis’, the homophones in ‘Third of May’ and the historical allusions threaded throughout the album. Four years in college have clearly turned him in to an itchy student, keen to over analyse, over explain and over think. The thing is, Peckonfold is a good lyricist but he’s no poet. The words and images he frets over are too obtuse for the average listener, and he fails to make the complexity engaging in a way that, say, Ezra Koenig did on ‘Modern Vampires in the City.’ Even when analysed on the page, these lyrics often come off as pretentious, ineffective undergrad poetry. See for example, ‘All you leave behind you lies in any one you open’ or ‘pacing the basement like Cassius in Rome or in Kinisha/just let me at him like first Manassas, like Appomattox.’

Still, fleet foxes could sing the phone book and it would sound divine. Without a doubt the secret to their success is their harmonies – It’s one of the things that separates the group from their many imitators. A beautiful flower is beautiful whether it’s growing in a field, a junkyard, or a city. Sometimes it’s more beautiful in ugly surroundings. So it is with Fleet Foxes harmonies. Often on ‘Crack Up’ the music is boring, repetitive, dissonant, messy or tiring (sometimes intriguingly so, sometimes not. Some times purposefully so, sometimes, I suspect, not). But at the heart of each and every song here are harmonies so sweet and intoxicating that every complaint seems somehow irrelevant.

‘Crack Up’ is flawed and can be frustrating; even as I write this I’m not convinced about its lasting appeal – do I admire it or love it? Do the many florid arrangements distract from the emotion? Is all the linguistic wordplay obscuring a lack of anything real to say? I’m not sure I know the answers but I do know I’ve considered the questions for weeks now, all the while chewing on and being mesmerised by this record. It’s complicated and deep and intelligent and these are qualities that not many indie rock albums have in 2017. Even if you find that complexity off putting, this is an album that is hard to just dismiss outright. It’s simply too carefully crafted and too thoughtful – not to mention far too gorgeous – for that. ‘Crack Up’ may occasionally be befuddlement but it’s always beautiful befuddlement.

8.5/10

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Review Roundup

29 Jun

Katy Perry – ‘Witness’

‘Witness’ is the most exhausting, try hard, badly misjudged, over reaching pop album I’ve heard in many years. A truely inexplicable misfire on every level, from the superficial to the fundamental. Perry’s new found and all too convenient ‘woke persona’ is unconvincing, and a duplicity reveals itself from the opening title track onwards. The hooks are diluted beneath a cliched and personality xeroxed production and the melodies are her weakest by a distance. Her last album contained two number one singles that shone amongst a sea of dross. The one before that contained six number ones. The four singles released so far from ‘Witness’ have failed to crack to top ten. Diminishing returns that, on this occasion, tell the whole story.

1/10

Forest Swords – ‘Compassion’

The persistent rattling percussion of ‘Compassion’, Forest Sword’s first release in several years, undercuts moments of extended, eerie silence. It’s an album that twists, turns and surprises from start to finish, never occupying a single sound or mood. This is a contemplative, but often confrontational, album that you’d be hard pressed to find a suitable context for. It wouldn’t translate at a typical club – the melodies are too dark and twisted, the rhythms too unpredictable. Yet this is hardly comfortable home listening either – it’s not what you’d call emotive, and the politics are too buried to warrant a serious engagement. So where does it belong? It’s a mysterious space you imagine Forest Swords would be happy occupying. This is uncanny electronica meant to unnerve and enchant. To that end it’s undeniably successful.

7.5/10

The Amazons – ‘The Amazons’

The Amazons performance on Jools Holland a matter of weeks ago was one of the most excruciating live performances I’ve had the misfortune of seeing on the show. Out of tune, out of time and out of breath, the lead singer had all the charisma of a package holiday sales rep. Dressed from head to toe in skinny black denim and chugging out the same mid paced riff rock that hasn’t been updated since 1993, nothing about the group made me think their debut album would be at all engaging. It isn’t. The Amazons lack of originality would be forgivable if the songs were up to par but they’re painfully bland and repetitive with a poor mix emphasising the feeble vocals. Opener ‘Stay With Me’ is the most encouraging moment, perhaps because it arrives straight out the gate with some energy and a perky melody, but it’s downhill from here. The band only have one sludgy, grungy idea, which they stretch well past breaking point. ‘The Amazons’ is utterly tasteless and by the final third, borderline unlistenable as well.

2/10

The Drums ‘Abysmal Thoughts’ – Review

24 Jun

Right from the beginning Jony Pierce has been adjusting to loss. On ‘submarine’ from their debut e.p, he lamented ‘I did not want to let you go but I knew that I had to.’ As time has gone on, this has become a self fulfilling prophecy. The Drums are like a Russian doll – they’re getting smaller with each new reveal. Initially a four piece, they shed their first member after inter-band squabbles whilst promoting their debut album. The trio become a duo after second record ‘Portamento’. Eventually, at some point last year, founding member Jacob Graham informed frontman Jonny Pierce that he wanted to peruse projects away from the group. Which is where we’re at now. Essentially The Drums is a solo project in everything but name.

This is a shame because it symbolises the end of something. Just as Brexit symbolised a dent in a optimistic post-war dream – representing a sense of mistrust and disillusionment that felt irrevocable – The gradual break up of The Drums undoes a modern version of the Pop dream. In 2009 the group represented the pop ideal; four handsome boys, guitars in hand, writing glorious pop songs about falling in love and having your heart broken. Their outfits referenced Americana and preppy disregard, their songs were the exact half way point between The Supremes and The Smiths. They filtered their sentiments through images of French new wave cinema and Postcard record motifs. Images of surfing, Submarines and sad summers blended with twanging bass lines and frantic rhythms. ‘Abysmal Thoughts’ announces that this wonderful embodiment of pop was always something of a sham. Jonny now claims to have written, recorded and produced most of the band’s material from the beginning. They were never really a band at all – not as such. The drama had been present, and hidden, since the start. The truth is out. The dream has corroded in to reality. Optimism has turned sour.

But ironically, rather than turning in to the disillusioned downer it had every right to be, Jonny embraces reality on ‘Abysmal Thoughts’ and has made a philosophically sophisticated, imaginative and honest record that stands shoulder to shoulder with The Drums earlier work. He confronts hard truths and an unloving world that won’t accept him for who he is. He embraces the implicit loss – of band members, of a partner – and indulges his sadness. He also tackles his complicity in these issues. For the first time he speaks as someone who has wronged as much as been wronged. There is a sense of purpose that was lacking from their last album, a sense of something to strive for. The renewed passion and commitment leads to some of the best melodies Pierece has written in years. You can really hear that he believes in what he sings. Whilst there’s nothing on here as catchy as ‘Best Friend’, ‘Lets Go Surfing’ or ‘Book of Stories’, all of these songs have memorable choruses and fizzy hooks.

Another irony is that the new found freedom has pushed Pierce further back in to his musical comfort zone. Jacob Graham’s deeper involvement on ‘Encyclopaedia’ led to some awkward experimentation and uncomfortable posturing. His departure has allowed Pierce to double down on his initial mandate of razor sharp hooks cut as simply, and vulnerably, as possible. But without having to run his ideas by a committee or represent other people, Pierce has been able to tweak the formula’s just so – this time to his own tastes. So we get unexpected delights like the jazzy saxophone break on ‘Are You Fucked’, the drum and bass inspired effects on ‘Your Tenderness’ and the trippy rhythms on ‘Heart Basel’. Brilliantly, despite these new elements, it never sounds like anyone other than The Drums.

On ‘Enyclopedia’ his tone was sometimes resentful and angry. Bitter songs like ‘Face of God’, ‘Magic Mountain’ and ‘Let Me’ were hugely unlikeable diatribes that rubbed up awkwardly against the more whimsical pop songs. Nothing here is allowed to be either that bitter or that unrooted in reality. The sense of anger has been ironed out and the fantasy has been popped like a balloon. Pierce has talked about the amount of soul searching that took place before putting pen to paper, and for once you can really believe it. When he tackles his father’s homophobia on ‘Head of the Horse’, he does so in a way that is both subtle and moving. He observes his own failures apologetically on ‘If All We Share’ and evokes sympathy without seeking it; he doesn’t seek to cast blame or draw conclusions either.

Of course, the album is brimming with typical Drums overstatement – ‘I pulled up the carpet in my room and slept on the concrete cos I knew you’ – which will not be to everyone’s taste. But this time the melodrama is cancelled out by a dose of dark humour and gritty realism. It doesn’t always pay off; the scathing ‘Rich Kids’ feels like a petulant attack, no matter how worthy a target, and the title track is four minutes of self pity that feels badly placed as a finale. But even these songs sound jubilant and exciting – the biting lyrics offset by elastic rhythms, springy guitar lines and, in the case of ‘Abysmal Thoughts’, whistles and cowbells.

In a sense the drums were the record industry’s last gasp at creating a buzz band in the image of the strokes. They received all the obvious handouts – the magazine covers, the chat show appearances, blog hype, the awards (named by both Pitchfork and NME as the best new band of 2009), but in the end this didn’t translate in to sales. Their debut peaked at 14, and everything since has failed to scrape the top 40. Their best known song, ‘Let’s Go Surfing’, is mostly recognised as the soundtrack to numerous adverts. And yet The Drums still have lasting appeal. They will appear in fairly big font on many festival line up posters this summer and ‘Abysmal Thoughts’ will receive significant attention in the music press. To many people who still believe in a lasting idea of pop music and all it represents, The Drums remain something precious to hold on to. Beaten, battered, bruised and three members down, they are still sounding as good as ever. Times have changed but The Drums, and the pop values they represent, aren’t going anywhere.

8.5/10

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Phoenix ‘Ti Amo’ – Review

19 Jun

In this time of massive social disharmony and political upheaval, there has inevitably been an increase in bands commenting on the big issues. Whether it’s through their interaction with the media, superficial lyrics or genuinely deep engagement, the upsurge has been notable. But Phoenix have made a point of looking past the current political situation. They spent a couple of years recording their new album ‘Ti Amo’ in Paris, during what was obviously a tumultuous time. They have described their record as “a safe haven we kind of built subconsciously for our own sanity”, which is either wilfully ignorant or beautifully defiant depending on your point of view. But surely Phoenix’s romanticised, inclusive, idealistic world view is worth indulging in – now more than ever. This is an album that celebrates simple pleasures and honest emotions. An album inspired by “Roman summers, jukeboxes on the beach, antique marble statues, hyper light, hyper clarity and pistachio gelato.” Decadent? Perhaps. But lush escapism is as valid as any other reaction.

Despite these admirable aims, ‘Ti Amo’s successes are mixed. Their last album was released four years ago, and so the meandering opening track and lead single ‘J Boy’ arrived as a bit of a damp squid. The song does eventually squelch its way in to your memory though, and likewise the album is something of an understated slow burner. Like the gelato they so lovingly describe in the title track’s lyrics, these are songs that gradually melt over you. The hotter the weather, the faster they will melt. The reverb drenched guitars, sun kissed synths and elastic rhythms of ‘Fleur de Lys’ and ‘Tutti Frutti’ are infectious, even if the half baked lyrics fail to penetrate. The pace slows to a sweet mush on ‘Fior di Latte’ and ‘Goodbye Soleil’, two songs that betray the massive influence of Italo Disco and French new wave pop. And as nice as these numbers are, they’re so laid back they’re almost sideways. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful that ‘Ti Amo’ is more chill than the bombastically mixed and tightly wound ‘Bankrupt’, an album so exhausting it felt like your ears were being crushed, but the better songs are the more urgent, upbeat moments such as ‘Lovelife’ and ‘tuttifruiti’.

The album’s second half is somewhat more disparate and de-spirited. ‘Role Model’ is the most uncharacteristic song on the album, with a ghostly organ clashing with sparkling beats. The song’s refrain unfortunately recalls the irresistible ‘Rome’, serving only to draw attention the new new track’s failings. ‘Via Veneto’ is a short, sparse synth number that goes nowhere. ‘Telefona’ reminds me of a recent Strokes track called ‘Threat of Joy’, which also made use of retro, down-stroked strums, cutesy synths and a one sided, conversational spoken word introduction. It’s telling that Phoenix music once echoed the Strokes very finest material and they often came over as The Strokes more sharply dressed, continental cousins. Here they are rebounding off one of the more forgettable song’s in that band’s discography.

Don’t get me wrong, ‘Ti Amo’ is a pleasant and inoffensive record. And I have no doubt whatsoever that it would sound glorious coming through those jukebox speakers, on a beach in the Roman Summer. But this is England, and however much you try and close you mind to it, bombs are going off and buildings are burning down. Ultimately, ‘Ti Amo’ fails to transport me anywhere. In brief moments, as Thomas Mars’ romantic French accent utters lovestruck Italian come ons, I’m nearly there, on that beach – but I’m never fully transported. The hooks just not hooky enough. The choruses just not persuasive enough. I vividly remember the first time I heard ‘Wolfganag Amadeus’. Every hook dug deep instantly and intensely. I went back for a second helping and didn’t stop returning for months. I mention this because after hearing ‘Ti Amo’ for the first time, I didn’t return to it, or want to, for several days. It’s lethargic, chilled out atmosphere and lazy melodies just weren’t speaking to me. They are never going to make an album as good as ‘Wolfgang Amadeus’, Recapturing lightning in a bottle is surely impossible, but as they coast down that Roman Summer highway, you feel like Phoenix could try just a little harder than this.

6.5/10

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Paramore ‘After Laughter’ – Review

15 Jun

Paramore’s latest album, ‘After Laughter’, is on some levels the band’s most exuberant record yet. But its sparkly, shiney exterior is also a red herring; Paramore ask an interesting question – what happens when the laughter stops and could it be masking something? Despite first impressions, the album is challenging and deeply introspective. You can take the girl out of Emo but you can’t take Emo out of the girl. Contained in these pop nuggets are tear stained lyrics about a rising anxiety. The album opens with a typically forthright deceleration. ‘All I want is to wake up fine/tell me that I’m alright – I don’t want to die.’ The song’s Emo sentiments are delivered with a fizz, and the sweet/sour balance ensures the song scans as an upbeat summer anthem and not a morbid indulgence in depression. But make no mistake – this is heartfelt stuff.

From top to tail, ‘After Laughter’ is the most surprising album of 2017. I’ve long regarded Paramore as something of a joke. I dismissed them early on as a second rate, third wave Emo act. I tried again to get on board with the more tasteful ‘Paramore’ record but didn’t find anything worth sticking around for. Not that Paramore had any reason to be bothered by my lack of persistence; they have a large, loyal fan base who have stuck by the band through lineup crises, changes of sound and various controversies.

‘After Laughter’ is the consequence of all of the above. Gone is Jeremy Davis on bass whilst drummer Zac Farro returns to the fold after sitting out on the last album cycle. Upon quitting the band last time, Farro and his brother (guitarist Josh) posted a lengthy online statement that implied Hayley Williams had become a puppet of major label playmakers, who put pop goals in place of serious artistic progress. As if to shrug a ‘yeah so what’ at that point, ‘After Laughter’ is pretty much the pure pop album the Farro brothers had accused Williams of long wanting to make. It incorporates elastic grooves, twangy guitars and coca cola melodies that worm in to your ears. The clear pop punk influences of the past have evaporated almost entirely, leaving nothing but Williams’ twangy, southern accent as a reminder of past petulance.

Lyrically though, little has changed. Williams is a pessimist, to say the least – a justifiable position to hold but one that is exhausting to listen to over and over again. Here are just a handful of excerpts: ‘For all I know the best is over and the worst is yet to come’, ‘I cried till I couldn’t cry – another heart attack’, ‘I can’t think of getting old, it just makes me want to die’, ‘I just killed off what was left of the optimist in me.’ Yes, Williams truly is down in the dumps. Too often the lyrics indicate that she’s content to dwell in misery rather than confront it with any clarity or conviction. This can be frustrating. You end up agreeing with an ironic lyric on ’26’ where she says ‘man you really know how to get someone down’. Emo has always been self indulgent and whiney, that’s kind of the point, but you’re going to need a high tolerance for that stuff if you’re going to play ‘After Laughter’ on repeat.

One exception is the sophisticated ‘Idle Worship’; Williams’ tone is more reflective and her diagnosis more measured as she unpacks the fan/idol dynamic. ‘It’s such a lonely fall down from the pedestal you put me on’ she observes. ‘Grudges’ also feels more thoughtful. With a deft touch, the song tackles Williams’ relationship with Josh Farro and the bridges they built to restore a broken friendship. The song’s central epiphany is that problems are better when tackled in close company, with a healthy dose of humour. ‘We’ll laugh till we cry, like we did when we were kids, cos we can’t keep holding on to grudges.’ The laughter implied in the title doesn’t always have to be a mask – it can also be a remedy. That’s an argument also made by the music, which soars, fizzes and sparkles in a way that doesn’t allow you to dwell on life’s hardships. Who could possibly be sad when you’re having this much fun?

8/10

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